The State Historic Site
San Felipe de Austin, a town founded by Stephen F. Austin in 1823, has a fascinating story and played a pivotal role in events leading up to the Texas Revolution. Still, this story is not nearly as well known or understood as others in the chronicles of Texas history, like the Alamo and San Jacinto.
To increase public understanding of the town’s history and significance, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) built new visitor amenities at San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site. These include a museum, orientation center, exhibits, map plaza, outdoor interpretation, and educational programs focused on the site’s history and archeology.
We launched a $12.56 million capital campaign to fund these projects, and the new museum was completed and dedicated to the public in April of 2018. Now, the THC funds the historic site’s annual operations through its biennial legislative appropriation, supplemented by public-private partnerships and efforts of local volunteers.
A Small Settlement With a Big Story
In 1823, Stephen F. Austin—“the Father of Texas”—secured land grant contracts with the Mexican government and brought 300 families—“the Old 300”—to form a new colony near Sealy known as San Felipe de Austin. The town became a central hub for commerce, government, and diplomacy and was the site of Texas’s first land office, postal service, and schools.
When the Alamo fell, Sam Houston’s army retreated to San Felipe. On March 29, 1836, Houston ordered the residents to burn their town to the ground to keep it out of enemy hands as the town’s militia defended the river crossing against Santa Anna’s invading army.
Weeks later, Texas won its independence at the Battle of San Jacinto. While San Felipe de Austin’s prominence lasted only 13 years (1823–1836), nearly every significant character and event of the era are connected to this frontier outpost.
Why Focus on San Felipe de Austin?
Today, San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site occupies a 90-acre property located 50 miles west of Houston near Sealy, Texas, along the Brazos River. Open to the public year-round, the historic site currently has a range of amenities: the new museum and visitor center, a monument to Stephen F. Austin, a replica log cabin, and a small 1847 mercantile—“the J.J. Josey Store”—which will be turned into an archeology lab. As archeological evidence of San Felipe’s footprint continues to emerge, the existing amenities will continue to successfully express the rich and complex stories of the town, the people who settled and inhabited it, and the spirit of freedom that destroyed it.
Through our efforts to support the THC in developing the museum and visitor center, we have ensured that these stories won’t fade from the collective memories of Texans with the passing of time. The museum provides a space to gather these memories, record them, and house them in a location connected to the characters who inhabited them.
The stories of the people and events at San Felipe de Austin are a missing piece of Texas’s past. Understanding what happened here redefines the Texas Revolution for future generations of Texans and state visitors.
Many different groups benefit from this project, including heritage travelers, history enthusiasts, students, researchers, and more. Most visitors come from the Houston area, but many still come from across Texas, the U.S., and beyond.
The new museum immerses visitors in the colony’s rich history and key role in the Texas Revolution. Project improvements included:
- A new 10,000 square foot museum complete with a main gallery, exhibits gallery, learning hall, interpretive spaces, welcome center, museum store, and restrooms.
- A core exhibit exploring Austin’s life, his role in populating Texas and securing its independence, the story of the colony and its diverse people, and the complete story of the Texas Revolution.
- A map plaza that lays out the town as it stood in 1836, giving visitors a glimpse at the physical elements of the town and life there almost 200 years ago.
- Outdoor interpretive exhibits focused on stories of residents, archeology, exploration, and research.
- Educational programs for students and teachers, including curriculum-aligned tours, interactive activities, camps, and after-school programs.
- Research programs for archeology and historic preservation students, archeologists, and other academics.
- Heritage tourism opportunities related to the site’s role as a gateway to the Texas Independence Trail.
All Thanks to Our Donors and Stakeholders
We want to give special thanks to all of our project donors and stakeholders.
Stakeholders that played a vital role in this project included the THC, FTHC, Friends of San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site, and the Descendants of the Old 300.